Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Credibility Traps

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When an interviewer is talking with an interviewee, its important to establish rapport.  The interviewee has to want to talk, to feel comfortable talking.  And there are a few things interviewers can do to help them.  A lot of them are exactly what someone would do in a conversation with a friend.  One is to repeat a question so the interviewee feels like they are being heard.  Another, if both are in the same room, is to establish eye contact and not be looking at something else while the interviewee is talking.

But there are some things an interviewer has to be careful not to do, or if they do them, to do them judiciously.  One is be careful of the supportive “Uh huh …” When someone is explaining a point it is common for the listener to say “uh huh” as a way of greasing the  social gears.  By doing that, the talker and the listener implicitly agree to be in agreement.  But an interviewer who is trying to not sound biased can’t lend their credibility to an interviewee’s point by seeming to agree.

The other danger is the misplaced laugh.  Humor can be elusive when people are shooting for it.  Likewise, it can erupt sincerely, but unexpectedly.  The thing about a laugh is it can give even more credibility than simply seeming to agree because a shared laugh is even more personal.

Fresh Air’s Terry Gross has a great laugh.  The sound explodes from her throat like a cap pistol.  Sometimes, she even snorts.  And when someone she’s interviewing says something funny, you can expect to hear it.  When something is funny, that’s one thing.  Laughing can be irresistible, therapeutic, infectious; all of the good things laughter is.  But Terry Gross has also been dead silent even if her guest has said something funny, or while they were trying to extract a laugh from her.

Interviews are conversations between humans and humans naturally want to connect.  But interviewers need to be careful to not sound like they are agreeing with an interviewee’s opinion or point of view by giving either too much or too often.

Written by Interviewer

February 12, 2014 at 14:41

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